American craft brewing has strayed far from the German law that demands only four ingredients in beer: water, malt, hops and yeast. Brewers take an abundance of liberties with contemporary creations, adding chocolate, coffee, fruit, herbs and foraged plants. They age beer in liquor and wine barrels, and even blend in oddities such as cookies and cereal.
So, if brewers go beyond the basics, you can, too. Perhaps there are taste combinations that you appreciate in limited-release beers. There’s no need to wait for the brewer to give you the flavors you want. Blend in extra tastes -- and some extra punch — with a beer cocktail, a combination of beer and spirits, and sometimes other mixers. We’re not talking michelada or boilermaker — better ingredients, better cocktail.
My preferred at-home beer cocktail uses a full serving of beer so that the bottle I open doesn’t go to waste. Others use beer in a measurement roughly equal to liquor in a cocktail — in other words, a couple of ounces. That’s a useful way to finish up a growler or large bottle.
To play with flavors at home, think of one-off beers you’ve enjoyed — Center of the Universe Brewing Co.’s Orange Is the New Stout or Ardent Craft Ales’s Rum Barrel-Aged Dark Rye. Or look back to those times you said, “Somebody should make …” Maybe you’d like to taste things such as ginger and orange in an India pale ale or peach in a pumpkin beer. There’s a liquor that will contribute those flavors.
Use these cocktails as a base for exploration, then create your own new taste sensations.
MIX YOUR OWN: Start your exploration at home with two of my favorite cocktails, both using Virginia-made beer and spirits.
Botanical Virginia Breezes
Mount Defiance Absinthe Superieure
1 1/2 ounces Copper Fox VirGin gin
Pale Fire Salad Days saison
Rinse a tulip glass with absinthe and pour out the excess. Add the gin and top with saison.
Dark Island Nights
2 ounces Champion Black Me stout
1 1/2 ounces coconut milk
1 1/2 ounces George Bowman Dark Caribbean rum
1/2 ounce Garofalo coffee liqueur
Combine all the ingredients in a shaker with ice and strain into an old fashioned glass.
FROM THE PROS: Many local bars either have beer cocktails on the menu or are willing to make one for you — and yes, they’re legal for a bartender to make and serve, even in Virginia.
Jonathan Kibiloski of Beijing on Grove offered suggestions for enhancing beer as well as cider: I love a French 75 and so many people don’t do it right. This recipe lets the gin shine, and then you substitute a dry cider like Potter’s or Buskey 45 and Trying for the Champagne.
1 1/2 ounces gin
3/4 ounce lemon
1/2 ounces simple syrup
Shake, strain over fresh ice in a collins glass, top with dry cider.
The No Way Out is a riff on a manhattan, infusing some tiki flavors into a classic cocktail with beer.
No Way Out
2 ounces rye whiskey
1/2 ounce Dolin Rouge
1/2 ounce imperial cordial (see recipe following)
Tiki and mole bitters
Stir until very cold. Strain into an old fashioned glass with a large ice cube.
12 ounces imperial stout
1 1/2 ounces of 2:1 turbinado simple syrup (2 parts sugar to 1 part water)
1 cinnamon stick
Boil the imperial stout until it‘s reduced by half. Use a larger saucepan than you think you need, and stir while boiling. Add the simple syrup, cinnamon stick and cloves. Let it sit overnight or at least 8 hours. Strain.
Joey Johnson at Tarrant’s West suggests a variation on a classic: Our house old fashioned is made with orange bitters and the aperitif Cardamaro. In this riff, the citrus notes of Three Notch’d’s Minute Man along with its subtle bitterness replace those ingredients for a fantastic local take on a classic cocktail.
Tarrant’s Old Fashioned Minute
2 ounces Russell’s Reserve 10-year-old bourbon
1 1/2 ounces Three Notch’d Minute Man New England style IPA
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Mix in a rocks glass and serve with a large cube. Garnish with orange peel.